Welcome to the Fest. This isn’t like those other fests that most people look forward to. Neither stellar pro shows nor the best rock bands glamourize the evenings here. Celebrities don’t come down to raise funds for a cause. In fact nothing in vogue actually happens at this fest. Yet , this event has managed to secure a space in the hearts and calendars of several hundred people for two decades now!
We, are the Rehabilitation unit team of Christian Medical College and Hospital, Vellore (India) and Welcome to ‘Rehab-Mela’ , as we call it.
The prestigious Mary Varghese Institute of Rehabilitation(a.k.a. Rehab) of C.M.C. has been organising the Rehab Mela annually since 1994. It is a get together for alumni of Rehab with Spinal cord injury (SCI). These people have undergone several months of rehabilitation at the institute. The team of Rehab includes doctors , nurses , physiotherapists , occupational therapists , social workers , psychologists and prosthetists & orthotists.
With an injury to the spine, human body gets paralysed. Some injuries cause a paralysis below the waist (paraplegia) , whereas more severe ones affect even the arms and trunk muscles (tetraplegia). Hence day-to-day activities such as bathing , feeding , dressing , toileting and movement become difficult. A Rehabilitation institute provides the spinal injured person with holistic training (physical , emotional , social and vocational). It is here that he/she learns to live his/her life all over again. Read more about it here. Perhaps this is the reason why Rehab alumni feel so attached to this three day get together. Inspite of their challenges , they make it to this event every year with their family. For most of them it is an oppurtunity to revisit the school that taught them how to live life all over again.
On the first day at the mela , we conduct a medical checkup for the alumni. Besides helping us keep track of the change in their levels of independence , it facilitates appropriate referral to the main hospital.
Sports events are the highlight of the second day. The alumni are escorted by students , therapists and traffic police in a kilometer long chain of wheelchairs , trolleys and hand driven cycles to the stadium. Ranging from wheelchair racing to javelin throw to more specialised games for the tetraplegics , the outdoor sports are an earnest attempt to give them a taste of the paralympics.
Sunday is THE entertainment evening. The entire rehab team takes turns to perform on stage because entertaining the alums is as much a responsibility of Rehab staff as is treating the patients. The doctors drop their drug charts and therapists forget the pushup count to do the lungi dance in Rajnikanth style. Next on stage , cracking us all up is our social worker wearing sunglasses in the evening , delivering a set of extremely hilarious colloquial dialogues. These are the celebrities for the alumni. They don’t need any pro shows.
In turn the alumni amuse us with their set of skills , ‘wheelchair dance’ being on the top of the charts. Over the years , the shy ones bloom out to become poets , singers and Rangoli artists among other things.
It makes me proud and surprised all at once to see what we have come to mean to these group of individuals. But then , I guess they have their reasons.
The other alumni at this mela and the medical team have seen these people when they were broken and falling apart (both literally and figuratively). Depressed or angry or clumsy or all of that together. And then we all had seen and helped them cope. When among the old friends and therapists, they feel like a family. Some say it is also because their wheelchair or crutches or the braces up their legs are not stared at. Some alumni say that for all the love and respect that has been showered upon them over the years of being associated with Rehab , they want to forgive the hatred of the world. They want to seek out to the society that needs them regardless of their physical disabilities.
Now that, is the resource that this mela aims at tapping. Goosebumps , smiles , tears , laughter , pride are only a small part of the bigger picture. This get together has proven to be a fertile ground for many positive initiatives like the Dr Mary Varghese Award Foundation (Read about Dr Mary Varghese here) , The Spinal Foundation (a non profit organisation) and alumni meets in other Rehabilitation centers.
As these alumni get back home charged up with goodness to give , we get back to our clinic and therapy rooms to rehabilitate another army of empowered individuals. Empowering each rehabilitated individual and enabling them to help rehabilitate many others like them is the vision.
In the following blog posts over the next few weeks, I will share with you stories of some alums (only from in and around Vellore) telling us about what this Mela means to them. Even the best of my attempts to write about it fails to match up to the palpable excitement in their voices to come!